Last month I began training for a leadership development program I’m running in Tibet next July. Part of this includes getting my client team in physical shape for the event, a trek that will take them up to 21,000 feet, so I created a training plan called “See You On The Summit“. This is as much a plan for them as it is for me, as I’ve gained 15 lbs in the past year and my normally bottom-of-the chart cholesterol has zoomed to over 200. I’ve been a competitive athlete for much of my life and thought I had a good grasp of nutrition, but after I turned 40, I found that what worked for me in the past was no longer working. In my search for better information, I came across a groundbreaking study that contradicts much of what we believe to be true about our health and what we eat.
The China Cornell-Oxford project (also known as the The China Project, is the most comprehensive study on the connection between diet and disease ever undertaken. The project was a survey of death rates for 12 kinds of cancer in over 2,400 counties and 880 million people, which studied the relationship between mortality rates and dietary, lifestyle, and environmental factors in 65 mostly rural counties in China.
The project was overseen by renowned researcher, T. Colin Cambell, Pd.D, a nutritional scientist at Cornell. When I read Dr. Campbell’s study findings, it compelled me to throw away more than half the “healthy” stuff in our fridge. The book examines the relationship between the consumption of animal products and illnesses such as cancers of the breast, prostate, and large bowel, diabetes, coronary heart disease, obesity, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, degenerative brain disease, and macular degeneration.
The findings? “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease.”
The study made surprising discoveries that reveal how many so-called nutritional facts are demonstrably false. The most striking finding is the direct relationship between higher consumption of animal protein, including chicken and fish, to higher rates of cancer and heart disease. Those populations whose diet consisted of mainly plant proteins were healthiest and lived the longest.
You can read a summary of the study here.
The results are corroborated by WHO mortality statistics by country. Those countries who derive the highest percentage of calories from unrefined plant foods (Thailand, Laos) have by far the lowest incidence of death from cancer and heart disease (only 5%) between the ages of 55 and 75. Those countries who derive the fewest of their calories from unrefined plant foods (Hungary, USA), have the highest incidence of these diseases (90%). From this data, cancer and heart disease are almost completely preventable through a plant-based diet.
Dr. Fuhrman’s plan is based on nutrient density, where you eat as much as possible of these high nutrient, low calorie foods. At the top of the list are dark green leafy vegetables, then other dark green veggies like broccoli, asparagus, then fruits, then beans then raw nuts & seeds. At the very bottom are refined oils, cheese, refined grains, red meat, and full-fat dairy. His formula is simple:
H=N/C or Health = Nutrients/Divided by Calories
So healthy diet is all about nutrient density per calorie, including vitamins, minerals, fibers & phytochemicals. Dr. Fuhrman writes, “The key to permanent weight loss is to eat predominantly those foods which have a high proportion of nutrients (non-caloric food factors) to calories (carbohydrates, fats and proteins).” Animal protein is calorie dense, but not anywhere as nutritionally dense as vegetables, and the benefits from the consumption of meat is more than offset by its disease-promoting consequences.
Supporting the risks of high animal protein intake is The Nurse’s Health Study in Boston, which revealed that lowering fat intake didn’t reduce breast cancer rates. As Dr. Furhman points out, the “low-fat” group were getting 29% of their calories from fat, which is like cutting back from smoking 3 packs a day to 2, and expecting lower rates of lung disease. Those in the study who reported eating less fat, consumed just as much or more animal protein than those on the higher fat diet, without an increase in plant protein consumption. My big take-away from this study is that longest-lived women were the the leanest and ate the most plant-based foods.
Dr. Fuhrman also cites a study highlighted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that shows significantly increased lifespan and reduced incidence of disease in monkeys on a 30% reduced calorie diet. This doesn’t mean starvation, just deriving nutrition from less calorie-dense foods. This diet was proven to lower metabolism, inhibit tumor growth, protect against genetic damage from free-radicals in addition to raise good cholesterol and lower LDL. The original study, done at U. Wisconsin-Madison is summarized here.
We’ve hear a lot of marketing noise about “boosting our metabolism” as the way to burn fat, (energy drinks are the fastest segment of the beverage industry), but slower metabolism has proven to equal a longer life in all animals. Dr. Fuhrman’s proven process is to achieve a healthy body mass index through good nutrition and exercise, lowering metabolism and offering protection from disease. Through moderate activity and a plant-based diet, there’s no need to “burn” fat, as the body won’t store it.
So the way to achieve this is to cut out meat, refined carbs like bagels, pasta and bread (even “whole grain” are mostly made from white flour), juices (liquid calories with all the healthy fiber removed), and dairy. Especially dairy. Dr. Fuhrman points out that Americans consume 5 times more calcium through milk and cheese than the average Chinese, but have much higher rates of osteoporosis. This is because only 30% of the calcium in milk is absorbed. Bok choi, collard greens and other leafy vegetables have much more calcium by calorie than any dairy product. Thinking that you’re safe with 2% milk? 35% of its calories are from fat. 1% milk: 20% from fat.
Unconvinced? A few more diary statistics:
in investigating the link between lactose (milk sugar) and cancer among the 80,000 women enrolled in the Nurses Health Study, those who consumed one or more servings of dairy per day had more than a 44% increased chance of all forms of invasive ovarian cancer than those who ate the lowest amount (2-3 servings per month). Skim and lowfat milk were the primary sources of this lactose.
a 2000 Harvard study found that 2.5 servings of dairy per day boosted risk of prostate cancer by more than 30%
One of the biggest proponents of our cultural nutrition myths is the USDA. Our govt. spends over $20b in price supports that directly benefit the beef, dairy and veal industries. This money is given to farmers to artificially lower the cost of crops fed to animals thereby helping reduce the prices we pay for dairy, beef and fowl. Fruits & vegetables grown primarily for human consumption are specifically excluded from USDA price supports. By creating a food pyramid that prominently features animal protein and grain-based products, combined with major media marketing campaigns, it’s no wonder we buy into the “got milk?” hype and “Beef: it’s what’s for dinner” mantra.
I highly recommend Eat to Live and at the very least, having a read through DiseaseProof, which backs its nutritional advice with broad scientific data. I feel like I’ve been liberated from the tyranny of protein and can already see myself as that spry monkey on the left, throwing his poop gleefully into his twilight years.